One of the best-kept secrets in Rome is the existence of a small crypt on the Isola Tiberina, close to the church of San Bartolomeo all' Isola, in which are interred dozens of skulls and assorted bones, all that remains of the unclaimed bodies of people who, long ago, drowned in the river Tiber.
The crypt belongs to the Veneranda confraternita de’ devoti di Gesù Cristo al Calvario e di Maria Santissima Addolorata in sollievo delle Anime Sante del Purgatorio (Confraternity of of the devotees of Jesus Christ at Calvary and Mary Most Holy of Sorrows in relief of the Holy Souls in Purgatory), a charitable body that was set up in the 18th century whose purpose was to give a Christian burial to the bodies that were never claimed.
The members of the confraternity came to be known as the Sacconi Rossi, on account of their large red cloaks and hoods.
The ossuary was closed in 1836 on the orders of Pope Gregory XVI (r. 1831-46).
My name is David Lown and I am an art historian from Cambridge, England. Since 2001 I have lived in Italy, where I run private walking tours of Rome.
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